An era is coming to an end - the last flight of the Huey
An era is coming to an end - the last flight of the Huey
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On 23 June 2021, after exactly 54 years and three months of flight service, the last flight of the Bell UH-1D marks the end of an era. To Army Aviation, the aircraft that is now leaving the Bundeswehr has been very special. “She flew almost everywhere”, says the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Alfons Mais about the Huey shortly after its final landing at the Bückeburg Army air base. From Neuhardenberg in Brandenburg, the Chief of the Army flew the last Bell of the armed forces to the place where the Bell UH-1D will never be forgotten.
Many people know the distinctive, carpet-beating sound of this helicopter type: It gave the Bell UH-1D her German nickname “Teppichklopfer”; its English nickname “Huey”, in turn, is based on its original English designation. From 1967, more than 350 helicopters were delivered to the Bundeswehr. The last machine with the identification 73+08 on its tail boom received a special “Goodbye Huey!” paint job. In the last phase of her service life she flew to her former stationing locations and deployment locations once more. “She was an extremely reliable and robust helicopter”, the Chief of the Army says, full of praise. With numerous licensees, a good 16,000 machines of this type were built.
Start of a new chapter in history
The 73+08 takes off for the last time in the afternoon of 23 June. Her last flight will take the Huey from Brandenburg via Berlin to Bückeburg in Lower Saxony. A total of six helicopters from all flying units of the Army welcome the “Goodbye Huey” above the Bückeburg Army air base and escort her to her final landing. After circling with the farewell formation for one last time, the Huey touches down in front of Hangar 7 of the Bückeburg Army air base. Around 50 guests from within the Bundeswehr, politics and culture took part in the ceremony at 30 Transport Helicopter Regiment. “To me, this last flight and the decommissioning ceremony are a particular honour”, says the highest-ranking Army soldier. Army aviation has been the military home of the Chief of the Army for about 20 years. He served as a pilot, flying the Bell UH-1D and its predecessor, the Alouette helicopter. This final landing in Bückeburg opens a new chapter for the helicopter where it will continue to inspire both young and old, even without a mission.
The final landing
The Commander of the Army Helicopter Command, Brigadier General Ulrich Ott, the Director of Army Aviation and the Director of Flight Operations welcome the Chief of the Army in Bückeburg after landing. The “Fliegermarsch”, played by soldiers of the Hanover Army Band, heralds the last official moment surrounding the legendary helicopter. “Even the introduction of the helicopter in 1967 was a success story”, Mais says. As a matter of fact, all helicopters that had been ordered were delivered to the field units by 1971. Crew training took place in Bückeburg and with the U.S. Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama. The Bell UH-1D has accumulated over 2.3 million flight hours, which makes it the Bundeswehr helicopter that has been in the air most often, Mais emphasizes in his speech. The aircraft was characterised by high reliability and extremely solid flight characteristics. In his speech, the Chief of the Army looks back on several stations in the Bell UH-1D’s career.
The Huey in the Bundeswehr
In 1965, a total of 356 machines were ordered for the Army, the Air Force and the Federal Border Guard. The machines were mainly manufactured in Germany under licence. The prime contractor at the time was Dornier. The Army received 204 machines to equip a great number of units. In the Army, the Bell UH-1D was mainly used to ensure the infantry’s air mobility. Paratroopers, airborne troops as well as mountain infantry and light infantry forces were the main users of helicopters for airlifting personnel and materiel. The Huey was also used as a MEDEVAC helicopter. The Air Force received 132 machines and used them for different purposes. Many machines were earmarked for search and rescue (SARSearch and Rescue) missions. They had medical emergency equipment on board and were equipped with a rescue hoist mounted to a swivel arm.
Tried and tested in deployments abroad
In its many variants, the Bell UH-1D has also been flying reliably in support of Bundeswehr operations abroad for many years from 1991 onwards, for example during the provision of aid for the Kurdish people in Turkey or during the United Nations stabilisation mission in Somalia in 1993. Also, it was employed over many years in support of different missions in the Balkans, such as SFORStabilisation Force, KFORKosovo Force or EUFOREuropean Union Force.
During all these missions, the distinctive sound of the helicopter could be heard. The rotor blades produce whirl at their tips as they rotate. The typical “thumping” sound occurs when the following blade passes through this whirl. That is why the helicopter can be heard from a distance of about 10 kilometers - starting with a low hum that is getting louder and louder.
Workhorse in disaster relief operations
No matter whether flood, fire, snow or storm: When it came to helping, Bell UH-1D crews have been at the forefront time and again. Be it for supplying villages and farms during snow disasters or in flood situations, moving sandbags in airlift, carrying buckets of water on the cargo hook or other material as external loads: Bell helicopters have always been at hand.
As part of a project referred to as “concentration of helicopter capabilities”, all Hueys were agreed to be transferred to the Army. The only remaining Huey unit was 30 Transport Helicopter Regiment. There, the Bell UH-1D was used as transport and SARSearch and Rescue helicopter until 2016. Afterwards she was only used as SARSearch and Rescue helicopter in the 7th squadron at the Niederstetten, Nörvenich and Holzdorf bases. The programme to replace the Bell UH-1D as SARSearch and Rescue helicopter with the sophisticated and considerably better equipped Airbus H 145 LUH SARSearch and Rescue started in 2020.
She will never be forgotten
The Chief of the Army, Alfons Mais, expresses his respect, gratitude and appreciation to all the ground crews, technicians and aircrews who have been on duty all these years for the successful operation of the helicopter. “Without them, this helicopter would not have been capable of these unique achievements in the Army.” With this landing, the in-service life of the Bell UH-1D now comes to an end, but she will never be forgotten, as Mais goes on to say.
The symbolic handover of the flight log to the collection of exhibits at the International Helicopter Training Centre and the announcement that the “Goodbye Huey” with its special paint and the identification 73+08 will be on permanent display at the Bückeburg Helicopter Museum herald the last minutes of the ceremony. In future, the last Huey will be on display at Bückeburg together with another 50 rotary-wing aircraft and many other exhibits of military and civilian aviation. It is Germany’s biggest and most comprehensive collection of vertical aviation history. The song Über den Wolken (Above the clouds) concludes the ceremony at the Bückeburg Army air base.